Anupama Rao

Associate Professor of History

Anupama Rao has research and teaching interests in the history of anti-colonialism; gender and sexuality studies; caste and race; historical anthropology, social theory, and colonial genealogies of human rights and humanitarianism.

Her book, The Caste Question (University of California Press, 2009) theorizes caste subalternity, with specific focus on the role of anti-caste thought (and its thinkers) in producing alternative genealogies of political subject-formation through the vernacularization of political universals. She has also written on the themes of colonialism and humanitarianism, and on non-Western histories of gender and sexuality. Recent publications include: Discipline and the Other Body (Duke University Press, 2006); "Death of a Kotwal: Injury and the Politics of Recognition," Subaltern Studies XII; Violence, Vulnerability and Embodiment (co-editor, special issues of Gender and History, 2004), and Gender and Caste: Issues in Indian Feminism (Kali for Women, 2003).

Professor Rao is currently working on a book on the political thought of B. R. Ambedkar; as well as a project titled Dalit Bombay, which explores the relationship between caste, political culture, and everyday life in colonial and postcolonial Bombay.

Rao received her BA, with honors, from the University of Chicago, and her Ph.D. from the interdepartmental program in anthropology and history at the University of Michigan.

Rao has served as president of the Society for the Advancement of the History of South Asia (SAHSA) of the American Historical Association (2010); director of the project on “Liberalism and its Others,” at the Center for the Critical Analysis of Social Difference at Columbia University; and as a member of the South Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies, 2010-12. Her work has been supported by grants from the ACLS; the American Institute for Indian Studies; the Mellon Foundation; the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the SSRC. She was a Fellow-in-Residence at the National Humanities Center from 2008-09, and a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford during 2010-11. In 2014-2015, she will be a Fellow at REWORK (Humboldt University, Berlin).

She is co-convenor of a project on “Subaltern Urbanism,” supported by the Heyman Center for the Humanities, and by the project on “Women Creating Change,” hosted by Columbia’s Center for the Study of Social Difference; co-convenor of a project supported by the Mellon Foundation and the International Institute of Asian Studies (Leiden), on “Asian Spatialities”; and Senior Editor, Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.


Ambedkar in His Time and Ours

R. B. More: Memoirs of a Dalit Communist (Translation of autobiography with critical introduction with Prof. Wandana Sonalkar )

Dalit Bombay: Stigma, Precarity, and Everyday Life

Selected Publications

The Caste Question: Dalits and Politics in Modern India (University of
California Press (Spring 2009)

"Affect, Memory, and Materiality: An Essay on Archival Mediation," (a
review essay) Comparative Studies in Society and History, 50:2, April

"Who is the Dalit? The Emergence of a New Political Subject," in Claiming
Power from Below: Dalits and the Subaltern Question in India [for a
festschrift in honor of Eleanor Zelliot] Oxford University Press, 2008:

"Ambedkar and the Politics of Minority: A Reading," in From the Colonial
to the Postcolonial: India and Pakistan in Transition, eds. Dipesh
Chakrabarty, Rochona Mazumdar and Andrew Sartori, Oxford University Press, 2007: 137-158

"Death of a Kotwal: Injury and the Politics of Recognition," in Subaltern
Studies XIII (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2005)

Discipline and the Other Body: Correction, Corporeality, Colonialism, ed.
with S. Pierce (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006)

Gender and Caste: Contemporary Issues in Indian Feminism, part of a series on Indian feminism, ed. R. S. Rajan (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2003
[hardback]; paperback published Spring 2005 in India; co-published
internationally by Zed Books, Summer 2005)

"Violence, Vulnerability, and Embodiment," ed. with S. D'Cruze, special
issue of Gender and History 16 (November 2004)


Academic Focus: 

South Asian history and anthropology
Social theory and intellectual history
Comparative urbanism

Awards & Honors: 
Professional Affiliations: 
Presentations / Recent Lectures: 


Office Hours: 

B.A., University of Chicago
Ph.D., University of Michigan

Related Web Sites: 

Anupama Rao's interview online with CASBS


The Caste Question

In the News

“Gender and Empire” is part of of the Consortium for Critical Interdisciplinary Studies (CCIS) Critical Inquiry Lab – an innovative series of linked courses sponsored by the CCIS.

Barnard history professor came to the College in 2001 after completing three years of post-doctoral study at N.Y.U. A South Asian historian, Rao became interested in critiques of South Asian history and anthropology as an undergrad at the University of Chicago, a noted center for such studies.

This innovative work of historical anthropology explores how India's Dalits, or ex-untouchables, transformed themselves from stigmatized subjects into citizens.